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Astrocade Euro Demo?


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How come no one has made any Astrocade demos in the European style? I'd love to see, at least, a 3D rotating cube on the Astrocade with some wierd-ish techno music. The Astrocade has a great 256 color palette; how come no coder has come along to show-off what the Astrocade is capable of doing graphically and/or musically?

If the Timex Sinclair 1000, which only features B&W, 2K of RAM, and no sound can pull this off...

Then I'd love to see what the Astrocade can do in glorious full color with sound. Hey, both of these computers use the Z80 CPU, so that shouldn't be an issue.

The Timex 1000's big brother from England, the Sinclair Spectrum, has thousands of demos for it. (Yeah, I know, the Spectrum is one of the most popular 8-bit computers ever sold and the Astrocade, uh, isn't). I just picked one demo at random. Check this one out:

Sure, I know, the specifications of the Astrocade and the Spectrum are quite different. For starters, the Spectrum's screen resolution is about four times higher (256×192 vs. 160x102), but the Astrocade's sound is much better (3-channel vs. mono "beeper" sound). So... I wonder... could someone pull off anything even close to this on the Astrocade?

Yes, yes... I know. The Astrocade is limited in more ways than I mentioned already For one thing, the Astrocade has access to only 8K or ROM. Still, couldn't it pull-off some of what's in the demo? I'd love to see the Astrocade's sound pushed to it's limits! Come on, there's got to be a bad-ass Z80 coder out there looking to conquer another system and show off mad-skillz on the Astrocade. Uh, right...?

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You mean something like this one, released this week for the VTech Laser 200? Indeed they use a CD audio track instead of just the one channel beeper.


Out of those on AtariAge, I would think that Andreas Gustafsson (Sdw) might be interested in the Bally Astrocade. On his resume of systems he has developed for you'll find anything from Commodore PET to GamePark 32, including numerous Z80 based systems including Luxor ABC-80 and ABC-806, ZX-81 and ZX Spectrum, MSX, Sega Master System and Game Boy (or perhaps the latter is more like an Intel 8080).


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A few days ago I did ask Andreas if he was interested in coding for the Astrocade. He got back with me yesterday. Here is his (slightly edited) reply to me:

[...] I have written demos for quite a lot of different systems (including many Z80 based ones). I am not at all familiar with the Astrocade, I think I've heard the name, but that's about it!
Did a bit of research now, and it's an interesting piece of hardware for 1977 for sure, with the fully bitmapped screen but no sprites.

Doing a demo on for such a piece of hardware has some issues though...

1) I prefer to always have a real HW to test run things regularly, emulators for the kind of "non mainstream" systems tend to be quite far from accurate. I got burned pretty bad by this when I was coding for the Videopac G7000 (European version of the Odyssey 2) - I had lots of stuff that worked fine in emulator, but once I got my real HW with flash cart and started testing, there were lots and lots of big and small problems, timing bugs, graphics bugs etc. etc.
2) The Astrocade seems quite rare (and expensive)
3) It doesn't seem to have a reasonably prices flash-cart solution available
4) It's NTSC only (and 110V/60Hz powersupply I'd assume)

So I don't really see myself buying an Astrocade in the near future.
But as I said, real interesting piece of hardware for sure!


Well, it was worth a shot, right? It's too bad people outside NTSC-land never got a chance to buy the astrocade when it was new.


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Well, what do ya know, "Sdw" decided to try his hand at programming the Astrocade after all. He doesn't have real hardware, but he sent me his first trial program yesterday. He needed it tested on real hardware, so I did that for him and decided to make a trail video of the process. This video tests a new homebrew program meant to (maybe?) eventually (or not?) lead to Euro-demo-style program. Or do I just have high hopes?

Raster.bin test, by "Sdw," is for Bally Arcade/Astrocade. This video compares the raster.bin program running in MAME against the program running on real hardware from an EPROM cartridge.

Special thanks to Chris++ who helped me last night figure out some of my issues with sound in my recent videos. This video's has sound that's a little better. Most of the issues had to do with mic placement, but Chris also show me some Audacity plug-ins that help eliminate unwanted noise.

The video is here (a description follows the link):

This is a machine language program running as a cartridge. "Sdw" wrote this program just a day or two after hearing about the Astrocade. Not a bad beginning, right?!?

When "Sdw" sent me this program, he gave me these comments:

"My conclusion so far is that MESS probably does per-line updates of the graphics, so that means that you can probably count on it to check for tearing caused by mid-frame graphics update, but it is not accurate enough to do things like cycle-timed rasterbars.

"I did make a test with rasterbars, since I couldn't find any info on exactly how many t-states per line the Z80 is running in the Astrocade, I had to time it by eye and on a per-line based emulator it's probably a far from accurate.

"Do you have a flash-cart available so you can quickly test a .bin file? Or do you have to write it manually to EEPROMs? Anyway, if you have a quick way of testing, I'd be interested on what output the following .bin produces.

"It should produce a nice raster image with some colorful bars on the top half of the screen, and alternating black-and-white lines on the bottom half, all stable."

"I strongly suspect though that the timing I've guessed from running in MESS is off, and that you get bars that are not perfect straight lines, but broken, and probably non-stable timing meaning they kind of move around as well."

I hope "Sdw" found this video helpful. It's always fun trying new homebrew software, especially tests like this one which try to push the boundaries of what can be one of the Astrocade hardware.



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